Green Belt Relay – Round 3!

Last weekend was the annual Green Belt Relay, it’s one of the Chasers favourite events of the year and never fails to be an awesome weekend away.

At the start line

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The Facts:

  • GBR is a 220 mile running relay around London’s scenic Green Belt
  • The race is made up of 22 stages over 2 days
  • Stages differ in length, terrain, elevation, and navigational difficulty to allow everyone to participate
  • Teams of 11 race 1 leg per day across the 2 days
  • A record 40 teams entered the GBR this year, Chasers made up 3 of them
  • Although the routes are marked, you are reliant on your own navigation to make sure you don’t get lost
  • The smooth running of the event relies on participation from all teams to help marshal each stage and provide water stations
  • It is not flat!

Marshaling duties – Chasers this way, Serpies, errr, that way…image

The Highs:

  • Chasers took 9 stage wins in total
  • Bryn smashed the leg 17 course record by over 3 whole minutes!
  • Leg 3 and Leg 14 were lovely routes
  • There was a pub right next to where Graham and I were marshaling (phew)
  • We got to stay at the high class Miami hotel in Essex again
  • I got to spend the whole weekend with Gemma
  • I didn’t crash a minibus!
  • It was Nathalie’s 30th birthday so there was lots and lots of cake
  • We rescued 2 injured runners from leg 10 and safely got them back to their friends and relations

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The Lows:

  • I had a bit of a breakdown on not just one, but both of my stages
  • My legs didn’t work
  • My lungs didn’t work
  • I was a little bit sick in a bush near the River Lea
  • We accidentally forgot to pick up the leg 10 runners at the end of their run – sorry 😦
  • Sleep. There was none
  • A Serpie on leg 17 rudely told our helpful marshals to ‘get out the way, I know where I’m going’ – Simon Barrett, shameful & unnecessary, you give Serpies a bad name

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The Learnings:

  • There’s a possibility I still haven’t fully recovered from the London Marathon
  • It’s easier to write the route on your hand than look at a map
  • No matter how many times Gemma tells you how pathetic you are, it won’t make your legs move faster
  • No matter how pathetic you actually are, Gemma will never leave you
  • It’s much more fun to cartwheel and pirouette at the finish line than run sensibly
  • No one can beat Bryn
  • You can always count on Ross to run an extra leg if there’s an injury
  • You can also always count on Ross to wear very tight shorts
  • No one enjoys Ross’s very tight shorts as much as our Barry. He even has a special dance
  • You can’t wash your hair with a bar of soap no matter how hard you try (and Jenn really did try)
  • The Green Belt Relay was, as it always has been, a very well organised, fun and all-round brilliant event

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Huge thanks to the Stragglers, and everyone else involved in organising the GBR, and Bryn for organising the Chasers.  Until next year!

The Finish Line

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The only real trouble with the Green Belt Relay is that there is no down time, no time for a drink, and definitely no time to pop into a cactus fair…

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London Marathon #4: The One That Got Away

I got the feeling early on I wasn’t going to hold the pace.  I just knew it.  By the time mile 18 rolled around I had reduced myself to a walking break and everything felt a little fuzzy.  Despite Chris telling me we could still make it, and quite literally pushing me along, I could feel the A plan, the B plan and the C plan slowly slipping away.  The London Marathon dream was over and all I could do was simply finish.

The thing with the marathon is that it is unpredictable, and no matter how experienced you are, and how prepared you are for every eventuality you can control, there is still a lot you can’t control and you have to be a little lucky on the day for everything to go your way.

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I’m not sure I could have been much more prepared for my 4th attempt at the London Marathon.  I got a lot of things right, I felt good, and I knew I was in good shape, but something just didn’t quite go my way.  Instead of bringing home a new shiny PB to be proud of, and the BQ I desperately wanted, I trundled over the finish line in 3 hours 53.  Not a bad time I know, but it wasn’t the day I wanted and it wasn’t the race I’d trained for.  It was, however, the race I got.

I met some of the Chasers at the tube station bright & early on Sunday morning but it wasn’t long before Alex had to leg it back home again to pick up his forgotten timing chip (ohhhh, Alex!!).  We arrived in good time and I met Chris who had once again offered to pace me, despite having just run both Manchester and Brighton marathons in the last 2 weeks! Due to my poor pacing skills and self-doubt, I lept at this chance and was really pleased to be able to avoid the official pace groups (which get very busy) and have someone I knew by my side.

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It was a perfect day for running, cool, dry and not too sunny.  I had 4 plans, the A plan was to finish in under 3:35, the B plan was a guaranteed BQ and the C plan was a GFA, and the D plan was to never run a marathon ever again.

The start was crowded as usual but, as we were in a start pen further back than we wanted, there was a lot of weaving in and out of people and the first mile was slow. I tried not to panic and Chris stopped me tearing off at a silly pace to make up the difference. We soon settled into a good pace around 8mm, the crowds lined the streets, I saw Barry screaming at me at mile 6, and I remembered why I love the London Marathon so much!

Without Chris I most definitely would have ran the first few miles too fast so I just concentrated on following him.  The weather stayed perfect and, apart from a brief spot of hail, it was dry and the sun wasn’t too warm when it did come out.  Around mile 9/10 I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to keep up, I voiced my concerns but Chris wasn’t having any of it and we cracked on.

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I saw Mum & Dad on the opposite side of the road around the half way point and my friends Rick & Merissa cheering very loudly.  The Chasers were at mile 14.5, I was really looking forward to seeing them but for some reason I didn’t know they were there until we’d past.

By the time we were around mile 18 I had to stop and walk, I felt dizzy and all I remember was Chris saying ‘you’re better than this, come on’.  I tried to negotiate some walking breaks and we agreed we’d have one at 20 miles but I didn’t even make it that far until I was walking again.

After that, everything is a bit hazy and it became a cycle of me stopping to walk, Chris giving me some tough love and pushing me on, and each mile rolling by.  The Chasers were just after the 20 mile mark and there was no missing them this time, it was just what I needed!  Run Dem Crew were at mile 21, who always deliver on support, and Mum & Dad at 22.5.  I know there were other people out there shouting at me, sorry if I missed you!

I wasn’t feeling at all good, I felt sick and a bit out of it but I really couldn’t tell you why.  Chris dutifully picked up water whenever I wanted it and offered non-stop encouragement, but I knew I wasn’t getting a BQ and was increasingly unlikely to get a PB.  I tried to soak in the atmosphere that only the London Marathon offers, look at the sites and do as I was told, the miles were still ticking by.

With just 1km to go I still found myself walking and bumped into fellow Chaser Dorcas, she saw me walking and came back for me.  We finished the Frankfurt Marathon in exactly the same time so she said we would finish this one together too! Plodding down the home straight, it was a 3:53 finish, a comfortable sub-4, but no where near what it should have been.  I had executed a perfect D plan (no more marathons).

No BQ, no GFA and no PB. Gutted.

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All I really wanted was to sit down, but sitting down on the finish line is often frowned upon, so, with Chris holding me up, I shuffled, and shuffled, and eventually made it to my bag and my parents.

Chris was, yet again, a total star. He said all the right things, pushed me when I needed it and was even the water boy!  I think I would have easily come in a lot slower without him there, but he didn’t take any of my babbling, nonsensical crap and made sure I didn’t give up, I was all ready to have a little sit down on the side of the road at one point.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t quite achieve this time, or do what I said I was going to do, sorry Chris!

I’m obviously disappointed with my performance, but I’m not nearly as upset as I thought I would be.  Maybe it’s because I still got to run the London Marathon, and the London Marathon truly is the greatest marathon on earth, and I even got to run it with Chris.

I don’t know what went wrong, I was ready and I was prepared, I even had a personal pacer, but it just wasn’t to be.  Right now I’m completely torn between:

  • Flying to Latvia in a couple of weeks to try again (perfect timing but I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Liverpool at the end of May (much closer, but not so perfect timing and I don’t speak the language)
  • Heading to Estonia in September for the last chance before Boston opens (more time to recover, but the thought of  another marathon season makes me want to throw all my trainers away)
  • Honestly never running another marathon again (the best idea I’ve ever had but I’m going to need some new friends)

Even I don’t know what I’m going to do next but I’m definitely looking forward to a summer of shorter races and post run ciders in the sunshine!

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Hampton Court Half & Project Boston

On Sunday I ran the Hampton Court Half Marathon.  I always think a half during marathon training gives you a real indication of how it’s going, it lets you know if you’re on track to hit your target, or if you need to re-evaluate your goal.  For this reason I was nervous, more nervous than I had been about a race for a while.

In October I ran a 1:50 and a 1:49 half but, according to the McMillan race calculator, I needed to be running 1:42:30 to get a comfortable BQ in the marathon.  It felt like a lot to shave off…

It was a pretty early start to get over to Esher for an 8:30am race start but I was pleased to bump into some other Chasers.  They operated a wave start system but, rather than using coloured zones and policing it, people could start where they wanted so it wasn’t ideal.  It also started late, 16 minutes late to be exact, which was quite frustrating when you’re stood in the cold in just a vest.  Apparently there were issues with the park & ride system where they wanted people to pay £6 and get on a bus to the start – I ignored this and parked near the start for free, looks like that was a good idea all round.  Definitely room for improvement on the organisational front.

I made the bold decision to start with the 1:40 pacer, or rather hang just behind the 1:40 pacer and see what happened.  The plan was to hang onto him for as long as I could, but I didn’t want to let go until at least 7 miles…ideally.

The route was on a lot of pavements along open roads which I think made it difficult for the pacer to keep an even pace, add in  weaving around people who had started in the wrong place and I felt like I was all over the place! Every time we sped up I thought I was going to lose him, then we settled down again and it felt comfortable.  This went on until around 6.5 miles when he started to disappear as we ran along the river.

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Annoyingly I had forgotten to turn the mile alerts back on my watch after my last track session so I didn’t really know how much time I was losing, but I felt like I was plodding.  Often during the back half of a race I mentally give up, I allow myself to slow down and tell myself I don’t care about the clock, but that didn’t happen, I just kept pushing as much as I could.

The last mile seemed to drag but eventually the crowds thickened and I crossed the line in 1:44:01…90 seconds off the pace but slightly better than I thought towards the end.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, I’m still not.

The route itself wasn’t particularly scenic, apart from a small section where we ran past Hampton Court, it was quite dull.  It was fast and flat with great PB potential, but it took you on a lot of pavements along open roads which wasn’t ideal, together with the disappointing start I think the only reason I would do it again would be for convenience rather than anything else.  That said, you got a  great medal and the goody bag was well stocked!

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In summary

The Good:

  • I’m pretty sure Hampton Court was my second fastest half marathon ever
  • I finished in the top 8% of women
  • I couldn’t have given it anymore.  I honestly never stopped pushing which shows my mental strength is back on track
  • It was windy in the 2nd half…that may have made me a bit slower…
  • There are still 9 whole weeks until the London Marathon
  • My Run Britain handicap is heading in the right direction
  • I’m not giving up yet and, if all else fails, I’m bang on track for a PB

The Bad:

  • The splits aren’t great – I fell off the pace and it hurt
  • I was about 90 seconds away from where I needed to be to be on track for a BQ.  That’s actually quite a lot
  • It’s only 7 weeks until the taper…

The Ugly:

  • The outlook for project Boston is looking distinctly grey and cloudy
  • I know I won’t be happy simply with a PB in London

Project Boston – to be continued…

On the plus side, I think I made back my race entry fee in Vita Coco, my favourite!

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CTS Dorset: The Wind Battle

It probably won’t surprise you that the thought of a DNS next to my name horrifies me.  It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, or how sensible it might be, I don’t cope well with the mental anguish of feeling like I failed before I’ve even started.  When I woke up on Saturday I felt dizzy, sick and completely drained, but, worse than the thought of dragging my arse out of bed and into the gale force winds, was the thought of a DNS, I couldn’t be a DNS in the motherland.

Saturday was the Dorset CTS, one of the races in the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series.  There are 10 in total around the country, but Dorset is only one of 2 labelled ‘extreme’, meaning it’s utterly brutal on the heart, lungs, legs and, potentially, the soul.  Dorset also happens to be my home county, and World Heritage site Lulworth, on the Jurassic Coast, is one of the most stunning locations in the UK.

Durdle Door on a sunny day!

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Home to both Lulworth Cove, a remarkable landform that attracts swarms of tourists, and Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch that juts out in the sea, as well as rolling hills, coastal walks and cosy pubs, it’s a trail lovers dream.  As you know, I’m undecided on my love of the trails, but I do love Lulworth, Chaser weekends away and cosy pubs!

There are 4 choices of distance, a 10k, 16 miles (they call this a half), full marathon, 33 miles and a whopping 45 miles for the clinically insane (Russ did this one last year…)  I had entered the half but, having not run for 3 weeks due to a calf injury, I wasn’t sure how that would go…

I headed down with the usual suspects, Frankie, Albro, Russell and Lorraine, and the train journey was full of the usual banter, G&Ts and crisps.  Russ thoughtfully broke out the Scorpion Chilli Death Chocolate because, well, what else would you eat before an extreme trail race?

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On arrival in Wool, we dutifully headed to the pub to disturb the locals on a quiet Friday afternoon.  Frankie was running the marathon the next day but was still successfully sinking an impressive amount of beer!  However, after a pub dinner with the rest of the Chaser crew I started to feel really sick…

I’ll hold my hands up and say the alcohol probably didn’t help, but it usually takes a lot more than that to make me sick, and it certainly doesn’t make me shiver.  I sadly took myself home to bed whilst the others stayed in the pub of many ciders.

The next morning I truly felt dreadful and had zero energy, I had barely slept all night and could only manage a cup of tea and half a slice of toast.  I made a sensible decision to downgrade from the 16 miles to the 10k.  It’s one thing to push yourself through a few miles but 16 is actually quite a long way, the winds were crazy and the course was tough, as much as it hurt, 10k was more than enough today.

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Heading down to the start I realised just how windy it was, apparently the winds were up to 50+ mph when you got up to the exposed areas along the front.  I had made the right choice.  It was easy to downgrade at registration and, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the only one and bumped into a fair few other Chasers doing the same!

I met Mum and Dad who had come along for spectating duties and we watched the start of the half, the Ultra and Marathon had already started so Cat and Frankie were long gone.  I spotted Chris at about 12 miles in his 33 mile race looking, err, windswept, but strong!

The 10k got started after a race briefing at at 11.30 and the course took us straight up a stoney hill of steps, I started off jogging but quickly dropped to a walk, as did everyone else.  It got windier and windier as we reached the top and I spotted Albro, Russell and Claire taking photos, not sure how they didn’t get blown away…

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At the top the view opened up over the sea and Durdle Door and you could see the hills that were to come!  The first 3 miles is made up of 4 hills but, although the descents are more than runable (even for me!) it was a real struggle against the winds and you had to throw a lot of force into carrying yourself forwards.

On one descent down towards the sea, the wind was so strong it was blowing all the gravel straight into my face, I couldn’t see but, hey, free facial?!  The battle against the wind became comically funny as it literally blew you across the course, I was too scared to take any photos in case my phone blew away!

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At the 3 mile point, the course turned around and headed back on a pretty much continual slow descent.  Slightly more inland than the completely exposed front, and with the wind behind us, it became much easier to actually run, in fact, it became pretty much impossible to walk as the wind threw you forward.  We ran through a caravan park and onto the final descent down to the finish line, it was quite steep in places which was a hairy experience in the wind!

I got a big cheer as I rounded to the finish line and was really pleased to have finished my first run in 3 weeks, albeit with a slightly sore calf and out of control hair!

The folks were glad I dragged them out on a blustery day!

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I was a little sad I hadn’t been able to do the 16 miler, but I really don’t think I would have got through it and there’s always next year right?!  We had the usual Chaser success with a win in the half and numerous top 10 finishes as well as Chris facing his previous Dorset CTS demons with an impressive 11th paces in the 33 mile ultra!

In the evening nearly 40 of us descended on a wonderful little pub in Wool for celebrations, unfortunately I was still feeling a little under the weather so I missed the after party but I heard it was a success!

Dorset CTS is a fantastic event, it really is worth it for the views alone, it’s a beautiful place.  If you get the chance to go I would definitely recommend it, just don’t underestimate the challenge, it’s a tough course so choose your distance wisely!

The next day a few of us attempted a cultural day out with a trip to Lulworth Castle, which we did, but Frankie, Albro, Russ and I accidentally ended up spending the next 12 hours in the pub.  In our defense, it was a really, really great pub…

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A summary of important run-related learnings

  • It’s probably best to avoid alcohol the day before a 16 mile extreme trail race
  • It’s probably best to avoid Albro, Russ & Frankie the day before a 16 mile extreme trail race
  • It’s wise to eat 3 proper meals before an event
  • It is not wise to sub one of those meals for G&T and Scorpion Death Chilli Chocolate
  • Beautiful locations make even the toughest runs worth it
  • You should laugh hysterically in the face of 50 mph winds as you scramble up and down hills
  • It doesn’t count as falling over if the wind knocks you off your feet
  • You cannot walk with stormy winds in your back, you can only fly
  • Chaser support is rivaled by nothing

A summary of non run-related learnings (bonus life lessons if you will)

  • If you spend 12 hours in the same pub, you will name the barman Bubble Butt and he will let you choose the music
  • When Albro is choosing the music everything gets a little bit punk and a little bit weird
  • When the bar closes at 10.30 but you’re still there at 12.30 Bubble Butt will drive you home
  • In fact, he will insist on it…
  • And let you take another drink for the journey
  • And give you half a pint of milk for your morning cuppa because there are no shops open in Lulworth, ever
  • And let you keep the best pint glass in the world with a dinosaur etched on it
  • Bubble Butt is the best barman in Dorset

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Bournemouth Marathon Festival: Just the Half

I was really excited when Bournemouth announced they were launching a ‘Marathon Festival’.  Since I moved to London, I haven’t been short of local races to participate in, of any distance, but there’s always something special about doing your favourite thing in the place you still kinda call home.  Especially when it looks like this.

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Although the first festival was in 2013, marathon clashes left me cheering on the sidelines so this was the first year I had the opportunity to take part.  There is a Bournemouth Bay half marathon in April, but the timing is no good for people running spring marathons, and it’s been plagued by bad reviews more recently.  A Bournemouth Marathon Festival is just what the town needed to compete with the likes of Brighton and Portsmouth for running events.

The Festival spans over the weekend with a ‘Supersonic 10k’, ‘Supernova 5k’ and  junior races on Saturday afternoon, and the Half and Full Marathons on the Sunday.  There’s something for the whole family…unless you hate running of course…but we all know the sun always shines in Bournemouth so it’s worth a trip for cheering duties anyway!

I was in for the Half and the weather was looking mighty fine – sunny, dry, and maybe even a little too warm later in the day but, with a, err, sociable 8am start for my race I didn’t have to worry too much.

Mum & Dad dropped me off at Kings Park bright and early and I bumped into Chaser buddy Ed.  Ed was in the elite start and, after a quick chat, I was in no doubt he would finish in the top 10.  I dropped off my bag, headed to the toilet and started to panic…the queue was reeeaaally long and I only had about half an hour!

I ran into my friend Rick, who I hadn’t seen for ages, but didn’t even get a chance to speak to him because of the disturbing queue situation.  By the time it got to 7.45 I had to give up as the start was a bit of a walk away, I was promised there were plenty more toilets there…  After a jog over, I got into another queue, there definitely were not ‘plenty’, why was everyone taking soooo long?!  Sensing my increasing stress, 4 lovely ladies let me go in front of them, I made my start pen with 2 minutes to spare so I’m hugely grateful they did (thank you kind ladies!!)

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It was dry and sunny as promised, but it was too early to be very warm.  The course headed through a residential street before turning onto Overcliffe Drive towards Bournemouth and switching back towards Southbourne at 3.5 miles.  We could see the leaders coming in the other direction and I spotted Ed in 6th place so gave him a cheer.

I was feeling surprisingly good, I’d had a cold earlier in the week so thought I might find it tough but my watch said I was running faster than I felt I was so I was obviously in race mode.  I knew I would slow at some point but I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard so found it difficult to slow down deliberately.

At 6 miles we ran down onto the beach front and switched back towards Bournemouth again along the promenade.  It was getting warmer but it was nice to be beside the sea again, even if there wasn’t a welcome wind.  At about 8.5 miles we came off  the promenade and back up to Overcliffe Drive, this involved a fairly short but pretty sharp hill, I plodded on up but something made me give up half way and I walked (ohhh the shame!).

I totally lost momentum at this point, but a mile later we headed back down to the promenade near the finish line and the crowds thickened.  I spotted Rick’s girlfriend, who gave me a cheer, and I rounded the corner to see Mum, Dad and my brother.  I smiled and sped off (well, sort of).

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The next section was tough, the course took us away from the crowds and the finish area and back along the front towards Boscombe again, the route is basically a giant zig zag.  My pace had slowed and I felt a bit rubbish.  I needed sugar, why didn’t I stick a gel in my pocket?  Always stick a gel in your pocket!  They were actually handing gels out at some point, stupidly I didn’t take one.  I was stupid and gel-less and struggling.

We ran to Boscombe Pier, along the Pier, turned around and started to head back.  I still felt rubbish with only a mile to go and I had a minute walking break which seemed a little ridiculous so close to the finish.  Of course, at this point I saw Rick coming towards me, whilst walking…busted!

As we got closer to the crowds I tried to go a little faster, I saw my family again, headed up Bournemouth Pier, turned around and ran straight over the finish line.  It was a 1:50:41 finish.  It was OK but it could have, and probably should have, been a little better… As for Ed, he smashed it and finished in 7th place!

All in all though, I loved racing back home by the beach and the best bit was I got to have post run cuddles with my little niece and a homemade dinner from Mum!

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My thoughts on the Bournemouth Marathon Festival Half:

  • Amazing location (obvs)
  • Fab weather (again, obvs)
  • Plenty of smiley marshals (probs local, Bournemouth-ians are the best!)
  • Plenty of water stations & a gel stop
  • Not enough toilets at the start
  • A speed-zapping stupid hill will, erm, zap your speed, so be prepared!
  • The last 7 miles are exposed on the beach front so has potential to be windy
  • The baggage truck isn’t in an ideal location at the finish, I don’t want to fight through spectators to get my stuff!
  • Fab t-shirt in a great colour (at least it wasn’t another blue one!)
  • Fab chunky medal
  • Probably PB potential…you can counteract the hill with the downward slopes (if you don’t walk the stupid hill)

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Marathon du Medoc: The Boozy One

You don’t need to be an experienced runner to know there are a few basic rules to marathon running.  Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, get a good nights sleep, eat a hearty breakfast and make sure you’ve trained in your race kit.  Pretty simple.  So, when I turned up on the start line of my 12th marathon with a hangover, on 4 hours sleep, an empty stomach and a leopard print skirt, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the finish line in one piece…

Marathon du Medoc claims to be ‘le marathon le plus long du monde’ (the longest marathon in the world).  And now I know why…

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Medoc is one of those races on every marathoners’ bucket list, quite simply, it’s the craziest marathon on earth.  Rather than the usual water and electrolyte stops, there are around 20 wine stations hosted by different châteaus around the beautiful Medoc region in France, proudly waiting to let you sample their finest red whilst you have a dance to a live band before you run along to the next one!

Gourmet food stops including oysters, steak, cheese and croissants line the route, as well as the usual banquet of fruit, crisps, crackers and fig rolls you seem to get at every European marathon, and everyone is in fancy dress.  Fancy dress is the Marathon du Medoc law.

Whilst it’s certainly a race with a difference, it’s now so successful, this year was the 31st event and it sold out within 24 hours!  In all credit to the organisers, despite its huge popularity they still limit entries to 8,500 to avoid compromising the race experience.

Gemma, Martin and I had been excited for months, we flew to Bordeaux (the nearest main City where we were staying) on the Wednesday, which would give our bodies a chance to get used to the toxic levels of wine that would be necessary for success (sensible training approach).

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Friday was registration day, so we headed to race HQ in Pauillac where they had set up a little race village with a few stalls and a bar (obvs).  Registration was a little chaotic but the queue was short so could have been worse!

We had a few beers (and maybe a champagne…hey, we were on holiday!) and walked along the river where there was some wine tasting and various food on offer (the snails did not look happy).  Martin and Gemma had a plate of oysters (my previous history with oysters is that they always make me throw up, today was no different but I tried) and we enjoyed the sunshine.

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Part of our race package included a pasta dinner party and, this year, it was hosted at Château Senilhac.  On arrival we were greeted with a live band and several tables of wine and crisps before being invited into the marquee for dinner.  The best way to describe the whole look and feel of it is exactly like a wedding!

Dinner was chorizo pasta to start and duck and pasta for main (not ideal if you don’t eat chorizo or duck but I worked around it!), and some kind of foamy meringue thing for dessert.  By this point, we’d made some new friends and all had way too much red wine (to add to the white wine, beer and champagne…) so Martin decided it would be an awesome idea to have a few games of ‘who can inhale their dessert the fastest?’. 5 desserts each, another magnum of wine, and a fireworks display later, it was definitely time to go home.

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It was a pretty long drive back to Bordeaux which meant we didn’t stumble into bed, a little worse for wear, until 1.30am.  With a 5.30 alarm it wasn’t ideal.  The next morning was a bit hazy and a bit rushed but we headed out in the dark and rain to get the coach back to Pauillac for the start.  The coach was 40 minutes late. The driver was lost. It was raining. We were not impressed, especially as we’d rushed out without taking breakfast (5 deserts might not have been a bad idea after all).

Finally, the rain had stopped and we managed to arrive hour before the 9.30 start.  We quickly realised our hangovers weren’t alone, but the atmosphere was thick with excitement as people buzzed around all smiley and wide eyed in their fancy dress outfits, it was a far cry from the solemn seriousness that usually graces marathon day morning.

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This year the theme was ‘dressed to the nines’ but there were a real mix of outfits from dresses, shirts and bow ties to a full on Moulin Rouge cart, if you were in regular running clothes, you really hadn’t understood the spirit of the event!

The entertainment started early – a giant silver ball suspended over the start line dangled acrobats on aerial silks as they twirled above the crowd and, before we knew it, we were off!  The start was slow going but we weren’t in any rush.  The official cut off time is 6 hours 30 so, for those who are serious about it, the ideal finish time is 6:29:59!

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It wasn’t long before we reached the breakfast stop at 2k, tables of mini croissants and pastries, I was starving!  Buttery pastries aren’t my usual choice of marathon day brekkie so I conservatively picked up 2 mini croissants and we ran on, I didn’t want to be sick in the first 30 minutes!

Wine was served from the 5k marker, it may have only been 10am but it was delicious! We knocked it back and jogged on.  The wine stations came thick and fast for the first 9 miles and we revelled in the novelty of legitimately boozing whilst running, what was technically, a race.

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Each station came with well dressed waiters in the château grounds, some with live bands, but all with plenty wine and snacks as we guzzled back glass after glass.  There was a section in the middle with fewer wine stops and this is when the rain hit us, there was a LOT of rain!  It was around this time we realised that a marathon is still, errr, a marathon and it’s still a bloody long way!

Around the half way mark I started to feel quite sick, probably not surprising, but I was seriously weighing up the risk of splattering the vineyards with the very grapes that had once grown there.  Luckily, the feeling passed!  The second half saw more fabulous châteaus, amazing red wine, entertainment and beautiful vineyards, but the rain wasn’t going anywhere.

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Our paced slowed as we spent more and more time at each wine station, we started having 2 or 3 glasses each time and, at 20 miles, we were even given a healthy shot of whiskey…when in France right?!  The gourmet food came in the last 4 miles, I guess they didn’t want too many people feeling sick when there was still a fair way to go.

We dined on oysters (kept this one down), cheese, steak (not me), more crisps, and (if they hadn’t run out by the time we got there), ice cream!

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I’m not sure whether it was the wine, lack of sleep or my post ultra legs (can I still use that excuse?!) but, by this point, my legs were feeling pretty stiff and all I wanted to do was walk.  Martin insisted we run so, giving it my best shot, I broke into a jog, but all I heard were fits of giggles behind me…apparently what I thought was an elegant jog was actually a very stiff shuffle. Drunk, soaking wet, and slightly broken, it looked like the Marathon du Medoc had got me exactly where it wanted me, a bit of a mess.

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We managed to jog the last mile or so and crossed the finish line together in 6:28:59, couldn’t have timed it better!  Tired and happy we headed to the finishers tent, obviously it was time for our free beer!  The beer tent brought more carnage as we bumped into a fellow Chaser, and we inadvertently got ourselves involved in one too many rounds of drink downing with a big group of rugby lads. Well, what else would you do right after you finished a marathon?!

The evening brought more wine, more champagne, more live music and a pretty spectacular fireworks display.  Another very late and drunken night, but an exhilarating experience with 2 of my favourite people!

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Despite the nature of the event, we only actually saw one person in need of medical attention which is far fewer than any other marathon I’ve run.  There’s plenty of water when you want it and, as long as you’re marathon fit and in good health, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a really enjoyable run and take advantage of everything on offer.  Do it with friends, do it in fancy dress, do it with a smile on your face and do it with a glass of wine in your hand, but make sure you do it.

It’s clear Medoc are very proud of their marathon and they certainly should be, it’s a beautifully extraordinary and unique event and they’ve found the winning formula.  We absolutely loved every minute of it (well, almost, Martin got stroppy in the rain at 15 miles) and I’ve already decided it won’t be my last time.

Medoc, you were glorious, until next time, merci et bonne nuit.

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The Day I Became an Ultrarunner

It was 4.20am when my alarm went off on Saturday. I felt sick. 10 minutes later, our temporary-static-home-by-the-sea started to creek as the 5 of us stirred. Today was the day we would be attempting to run the 36 miles of the St Begas Ultra. And I was terrified.

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It had taken us 9 hours to drive from London to St Bees, the North West Cumbrian coast, the day before (an event in itself when you have an Alex in the car) but we arrived in good time to relax in our caravan (yes caravan) which was located a few minutes away from where the race would finish the next day.

There were 10 of us in total, but for Frankie, Alex, Dale & myself it would be the first time we’d ever ventured more than 26.2 miles in our trainers.  It was pretty tense.  Alex handled the pressure well…

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I hadn’t quite got my head around the concept of running 36 miles, it didn’t really make any sense to me. How far was 36 miles exactly? All I really knew was that it was a bloody long way, it was off road, and it was hilly.  I wasn’t sure if I could do it, I wasn’t sure why anyone would even want to do it.

In all honesty I think I had my head in the sand for most of the summer, I tried not to think too much about it.  I trained as usual, putting in the miles, but I wasn’t convinced it was enough.  I struggled through my long runs more than I usually would and I had a heavy sense of foreboding that was difficult to shake.

I just didn’t know what I was doing.  How do you prepare yourself for that kind of distance? I didn’t really know, especially when it was a trail race.  Did I mention that I’m not good at trail running?!  You may be wondering why the hell I signed up for such I challenge. I don’t really know that either. I didn’t really know a lot.  But here I was, embarking on a challenge that genuinely terrified me to the core because some sick, twisted part of me really wanted to do it.  I wanted to be an ultrarunner.

Sensible race prep in a windy St Bees the night before

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Last Christmas, my friend Chris generously offered to run the race with me and pace me to the finish.  He made me a pinky promise.  This was a wonderful offer, with Chris by my side my chances of survival would double.  But it also worried me.  Chris is the ultimate ultrarunner, and he’s bloody good at it.

Amongst other crazy things, he’s spent 24 hours running round a 400m athletic track (over 100 miles) and, just recently, he came 13th in the 120 mile, 6 day Transrockies Run in the States. He’s pretty hardcore. And I am not.

I was hugely grateful for Chris’s offer, but I didn’t think I could take him up on it.  If he was willing to give up his own race to run with me then I risked letting him down, as well as myself.  I wasn’t sure what he expected from me – there was a real chance I wouldn’t even make the finish line.  Without me dragging him down he could have a really good run, and that thought really bothered me.

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As time went on, Chris continued to insist he wanted to be a part of my race and I became more mentally reliant on having him there.  There were so, so many things I was worried about, but those worries would be halved if I wasn’t alone.  My biggest worry was getting helplessly lost at 30 miles, but with Chris’s experience we’d never get lost, right?!

At around 5am we headed to the neighbouring caravan, where the others were staying, for breakfast. It was the middle of the sodding night and I was trying to force feed myself porridge, not ideal. Registration closed promptly at 6 so we headed down to race HQ to sign away our lives on the waiver and get our long list of mandatory kit approved.

SBU35 (annoying named as it’s actually 36 miles!),  is a point to point race that starts at Bass Lake, near Keswick, and follows the route of a legendary Irish princess who travelled between 2 chapels bearing her name (I’m damn sure she didn’t do it on foot though…) Simply, course takes you through the Lake District to St Bees, our little village on the West Coast, but of course it wasn’t that simple.

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On the coach journey to the start Chris and I discussed the plan (err, a plan?) The first thing he made clear was that pace was irrelevant, but we had to keep moving forwards and take advantage of the easy sections when we could. He also gave me 3 rules:

  1. I absolutely had to finish. No matter what.
  2. If anything happened to him, and he couldn’t go on, I had to go on without him (I couldn’t even entertain that one.)
  3. Some standard toilet protocol with a couple of sub-clauses.

The race was completely self-navigating, there would be no course markings at all.  We were each given a 34 page booklet we had to carry with us with a lot of instructions. Russell had done his best explain the route, but it all just blurred into one long, horrifying list of doom.

What I didn’t find out until last weekend was that Chris tends to get lost on every race he does, together with my navigational disabilities it could be a disaster.  Good thing we were all carrying a mandatory compass I didn’t know how to use…

Chasers ready to run…and run…and run…

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After a race briefing, 117 hardy fools were set on our way…we were running an ultramarathon!  The weather was dry, and a little cool, but after the recent bad weather I knew we would be very lucky to make it through the whole day without wind and rain.  I’d have to cross that bridge when I came to it.

We started on an incline which went on much longer than I expected, but the pace was gentle so we chatted away.  As we came to the first decent I encountered the first of many ‘what the hell am I doing?’ moments. It was steep. And slippy.  And I hated it.  I thought it might be the right time to confess to Chris how bad I was at downhill running as he patiently waited for me…

After the nail-biting slip n slide, the rest of the first leg was pretty enjoyable.  It was mostly flat on a mix of footpaths and road and we ran round a beautiful lake which made me feel instantly calm. Apart from a small detour where we ran up a stream (and a grumpy man who followed us and did not see the funny side) , it was a nice run up to check-point 1.

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At the checkpoint we dibbed our dibbers (so they knew we were alive), filled up our water and had a couple of Jelly Babies.  I really struggle to eat on the move but I knew I was going to have to take on a lot more energy if I didn’t want to crash.  I had a gel and some shot bloks and hoped I could avoid real food for a bit longer.

A couple of miles after we left the CP, things took a turn.  We were 13 miles into a 36 mile race and I was struggling mentally, I couldn’t see how I was going to finish.  It was the beginning of my first dark time and it would go on a while.

As we approached what would be the longest hill of the day, we spotted Adam and Liz waiting to cheer us on.  As happy as I was to see them, I just couldn’t bring myself to smile, their friendly faces would make me cry and I needed to be strong.

The hill was a beast.  From the bottom, all I could see were brightly coloured lycra-clad runners making their way up a grey mountain.  It was steep, and it went on and on.  We walked up and I focused on putting one foot in front of the other, head down, mostly worrying about what we would face on the decent.  As we started to reach the top the wind started to howl, I could barely hear Chris when he insisted we stop to layer up as the rain came in.  It was getting brutal.

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The ground was that awkward type, large stones everywhere, half hidden in grass, difficult to run on but also not steep enough to justify walking.  We plodded on.  As the decent came into sight my heart dropped, we were basically going down a mountain.  This was no longer trail running, it was fell.

The wind and rain whipped us from all angles as we (well, I, Chris could run)  scrambled and slid down the wet stones, climbing over rocks and slipping over.  I made slow progress. Obvs.

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This was my lowest point.  Not only did I find it really hard, but I felt awful for making Chris go so slowly when the weather was so fierce, I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom.  Russell estimated I’d finish between 8-9 hours but, after clocking a depressing 31 minute mile I was pretty sure I’d be a lot slower than that.  Perhaps my first introduction to fell running shouldn’t have been in the middle of my first ultra.

When we had finally weaved our way down, the wind dropped and the next 4 miles were on solid, flat ground all the way to CP2.  By this point we were on around 21 miles, I’d found my confidence again, and I didn’t feel too bad.  I had half a jam sandwich (why not?!) and a lucozade and we were on our way again.

After a couple of miles we reached another lake and there were some more flat sections we tried to make up some time on, but it wasn’t long before we were climbing again.  By this point we were over 25 miles and it was the start of another dark time.  I had some sugar, put my head down and concentrated on following Chris as he navigated us along the paths.

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I didn’t feel good.  I felt weak, tired, and emotionally unstable.  There was still such a long way to go and I knew there’d be another steep section coming up soon.  We plodded on.  I didn’t have much chat, I just tried to hold it together and not look at my watch every few minutes.

The scenery was beautiful, it really was, but it was difficult to appreciate.  The miles ticked by until we faced our last big hill, a very steep path through the forest.  It was tough, but I didn’t really mind, as we walked up we were inching ever closer to the final CP.  At the top, the path levelled out to a grassy section that was very boggy, one wrong move and you lost half a leg in the mud (Frankie actually fell into a bog up to her thighs and had to be rescued by Russell, there are no words to explain how gutted I am he didn’t take a photo!)

The downhill was steep, but grassy, I don’t remember it being awful but nothing could be as awful as the previous decent!  A short while later we reached CP3 and I had a piece of homemade flapjack and some sweets, sugar was the answer to everything at this point!  The marshals were brilliant, checking we were OK, filling up our water and sending us on our way.

I left in high spirits, 32.5 miles down and only 4.3 to go! I knew we’d be nearer 37 but I didn’t care, I just wanted to get to the finish.  My high spirits were short lived, after plodding along a lane (still running I might add!) we turned into some fields which forced us to run on a camber as we seemed to climb over stile after stile.  I was emotionally unstable again and Chris’s jokes weren’t funny.  I could see the school where the finish was but it wasn’t getting any closer.

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Eventually we reached the last field and the finish line was about 400m away.  I could spot Adam in the distance and, as we got closer, I could hear people cheering loudly and realised it was all my friends, I hadn’t expected them to all be there waiting.  As if I wasn’t emotional enough at the end, coming home to everyone cheering the only way Chasers know how pushed me over the edge.

After 8 hours, 36 minutes & 21 seconds covering a tough 36.8 miles, I had just become an ultrarunner and I was completely overwhelmed!

Photo: Sarah Peck

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In absolute bits, I have never been happier to see these guys and I was so pleased everyone had finished in one piece.  Not only that, but Alex had only gone and come 2nd in his first ever ultra, James had come 7th and Cat was 3rd lady. Everyone else had done really well and Frankie was also over the moon to join the ultra club after being paced by Russell (if finishing a little muddy…)

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The crew.  Sorry Frankie (she’s the one with the LAD pose), it’s the only finishers photo I have!

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The SBU35 was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It tested me in ways I’ve never been tested before and I honestly couldn’t have got through it without Chris.  He was more than just a pacer, he was a navigator, counsellor, comedian and morale booster, without him I would have gotten terribly lost, walked a lot more and broken down.  I most certainly would not have finished in little over 8.5 hours (which put us 60th out of 109 finishers!).  Thanks Chris, you were an absolute rock.

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The next day we went for a little walk on the beach, found some fish and chips and Frankie, Lorraine and I spent the rest of the day in the pub.  Not Alex and Russell though, no, they went and climbed Scafell Pike with Adam and Liz, what else would they do after running 37 miles?!

This is my friend Alex.  He had a few drinks on Friday. Came 2nd in his first ever ultramarathon on Saturday. Had a few more drinks. Then climbed Scafell Pike on Sunday. In his pants.

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